The DilemmaWhen I was invited this past August to visit the set of 'The Dilemma' -- the upcoming Ron Howard comedy starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder -- it was shockingly easy to say yes. And not only because I live mere minutes from the Chicago set.

Still, while I've been a big fan of Vince Vaughn's for years (my first date with my wife was to see 'Wedding Crashers,' and I even saw his little-seen documentary about his traveling comedy tour), I haven't been digging what he's has been doing lately. 'Fred Claus' and 'Four Christmases' were such cynical, joyless flicks that they nearly ruined my holiday spirit. When I read the awful reviews for "Couples Retreat," I didn't even bother Netflixing it.

But 'The Dilemma,' about a man (Vaughn) who discovers that the wife of his best friend and business partner (James) is cheating on him, struck me as being different somehow.

That's mainly due to the involvement of Howard, who is not only known for dramas such as 'A Beautiful Mind' and 'Apollo 13' but for his stint as the producer and narrator of the brilliant sitcom 'Arrested Development.' Perhaps Vaughn, in the hands of an Oscar- and Emmy-winning director, could make the critics -- and yours truly -- forgive and forget his recent string of bad movies?

So off to the set I went on behalf of Moviefone to see what was up with 'The Dilemma,' which arrives in theaters on January 14. After the jump -- and after the movie's trailer -- I reveal five highlights from the set visit.

Highlight #1: Vince Vaughn Acting Goofy
At least on the day I was there, Vaughn wasn't acting as if he's much of a morning person -- but even a tense request to keep doing takes without pause was done with a "please." By afternoon, however, a day's work nearly done, Vaughn was his hyperactive goofball self again: playing ping pong with Kevin James between takes, directing a production assistant to bribe reporters with free brownies and loudly singing "Who let the scene out?" to the tune of "Who Let The Dogs Out?"

Highlight #2: Vaughn and James Improvising
The Vaughn and James scene I saw filmed involved their characters, Ronny and Nick (respectively), sitting on a couch in the offices of their firm, B&V Engine Design. At this point in the film, Ronny knows Nick's wife, Geneva (played by Winona Ryder), is having an affair, and he's conflicted about telling him. What I discovered is that when Vaughn and James act alone together, no take is ever the same twice. Beyond switching up intonation and expression, they changed entire lines.

In one of the first takes, Vaughn played against his typical exasperated, motor-mouth delivery by just sitting there silently for an exceptionally long time. The concept was cute but fell flat and didn't survive to the next take. Later, Vaughn reverted to old tricks, animatedly describing some hives he had contracted on his face, puffing out his cheeks and rapidly spouting "Boom boom boom boom boom!" James busted out laughing, but Vaughn quickly picked up the pieces and used the line for each subsequent take. Vaughn tossed in other humorous descriptions about his character's ailment (e.g., "It's my version of the ulcer ... " "When I piss it burns ... " and "Internally I'm burning up -- it's a burning hive thing") and then James added some funny lines of his own to encourage Ronny to talk to him (such as "Jump in the pool ... ").

Highlight #3: Ron Howard Directing
Howard was hands-off on set, letting Vaughn and James improvise with little direction. One of the only times he directed an actor was to physically guide Ryder through a scene and help her with a line she had been flubbing. Even then, Howard was calm and cool about it, and throughout the day encouraging. That encouragement may have helped James, who seemed dejected for accidentally laughing during some takes.

In the afternoon, Howard found time to tell reporters about the time George Lucas seemingly fell asleep during a late-night take on 'American Graffiti' after several days of around-the-clock production. Frankly, Howard seemed so on the ball, he probably could have directed the day's scenes in his sleep.

Highlight #4: Winona Ryder Getting Some Action
'Beetlejuice' and 'Heathers' were my favorite movies in grade school and high school, respectively, so I was really stoked to see Winona Ryder in person -- and in a big role, at that. Shoplifting scandal be damned, she's an appealing actress deserving of a comeback. To be honest, 'The Dilemma' might not be the right vehicle, as her dialogue in the scene I witnessed was pretty stilted and her chemistry with James a bit flat. But I'm willing to grant a day pass to the actress who recently played Spock's mother.

Highlight #5: Jennifer Connelly Attempting Comedy
Vaughn and James may get top billing, but let's be honest -- the Oscar-winning Connelly is the most celebrated performer attached to this film. So her casting in 'The Dilemma' is entirely intriguing, given that she has never appeared in an out-and-out comedy. Based on the scene I saw filmed in person and on the trailer, she leans toward playing her character, Beth (Ronny's girlfriend) straight, but Connelly still brought warmth and personality to her takes and made the lines sound natural. She didn't win an Oscar for nothing.
categories Features, Movies